TPR Teaching Online for ESL Students – What You Need to Know

What is TPR?

TPR (total physical response) teaching method uses actions and movements to demonstrate spoken words. It engages the students and allows them to comprehend what the teacher is saying.

TPR is often exaggerated when teaching English online. It is especially good for beginner learners, who may not understand the language. This suits all types of learners and helps simplify the language. Therefore, it is essential in the online classroom.

It incorporates three types of learning – by seeing, hearing and doing the actions.

The TPR used by teachers in a classroom and an online setting varies due to space, time resources and the number of students. It will also depend on the level and age of the student and the teacher’s teaching style. This is generally best for students aged from 0 – 12 years. TPR can be uniquely applied to your own situation and according to your own style. The most important thing is that it gets the message across to the student.


TPR is Important

It solves one common teaching problem – too much Teacher Talk Time! It can also help the student remember the words, have fun and engage better in the online classroom. It makes the job better for both the teacher and the student. Check out James J. Asher’s years in-depth research and analysis on the subject of TPR.

Pie chart showing why body language is important
The Importance of Body Language in Communication

Instructional TPR

Instructional TPR is used when you are asking the student to do something. Students will perform a task. This could be write, read, repeat, draw, look, match or circle something. This is particularly useful for beginner students who don’t know how to do these things yet.

Educational TPR

Educational TPR goes along with the topic you are trying to teach them in the lesson. The movements will reinforce the new words they are learning. There are so many ways to show TPR in the classroom.

For example, you could demonstrate a bunny by using your hands to mimic bunny ears on your head. You could explain a basketball by pretending to shoot a hoop.

Although it is most suitable for young learners, it can also be applied to convey meaning to more advanced learners.

How do I use TPR in the classroom?

Educational TPR can most effectively be implemented following the appropriate steps:

Act it Out

Show the student what you mean by your body movement. For example, you could raise your shoulders when asking a question or furrow your brow when you are confused. Make it obvious to the student what is happening through your gestures. You may need to use other teaching materials such as realia or props to help you get your point across.

Don’t just say the word, show what you mean.

Student Models

Have the student model what you do. Let them copy you, your facial expression, and gestures as you say the word. Speak slowly to make sure the student links this word with the movement. If the student is still not pronouncing the word correctly, you can point to your mouth and say the word again. Be patient with the student.

Repetition is key to help students remember and pronounce the word correctly. If they can’t get it right after many times of trying, come back to it another time. There’s no point in getting them frustrated.


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Write The Words

Write the word down on the white board or on the screen so students can see it and make a connection. This appeals to visual learners. It also teaches them how to spell. This is a new word they learned today so you should try to include it in writing. You could also include it in their assessment form or feedback at the end of the lesson.

Repeat the Words

Do the same for the rest of the words that the students learn. It is important to stay consistent with your TPR. Use it many times and practice it with the students to reinforce what they’ve learned.

Review the words and recycle them naturally throughout the lesson. You can refer to them from time to time when relevant. Of course, TPR alone is not enough to help the student. Ask the students’ comprehension questions to ensure they understand the words. Use a variety of props and flashcards to help the student along.

Total Physical Response Examples

I have included a PowerPoint with a list of examples of TPR you can use when teaching English online. Here are some instructional TPR points that you could use in your lesson:

Common TPR Examples:

  • Your Turn
  • Match
  • Asking A Question
  • Say
  • Good Job
  • Hmm
  • Look
  • Think
  • Nice to Meet You
  • Draw a Circle
  • Write

These are common instructional TPR methods that you can use to help young learners. Remember, each teacher has their own unique style and you can cater these just for you and your students!

How should I use TPR in the online classroom?

When you are using TPR in classroom, you do not need to keep pointing to your mouth for the student to speak. A lot of students know that they should speak after you. If they don’t, say the word and then point to your mouth (and your ear, if you like). The student will understand it is now their turn to speak.

There are certain times when you can prepare TPR. Questions such as ‘how are you’ and ‘how old are you’ often cause confusion among young learners. Prepare for common mistakes with some well-versed TPR.

While you can prepare for some situations, there will be many times you will need to create your own TPR. Don’t sweat it! Just do what comes naturally. Remember! Body language is very important to help the student understand what you are saying.

You can also extend TPR to games and activities such as Simon Says. In the game Simon Says, you must give a command, for example, “Simon says climb the tree,” or “Simon says touch your mouth”. Students only follow the command if you say “Simon says…”. This is great for kinaesthetic learners.


And that’s it! You are ready to use TPR in the lessons. It doesn’t matter if you look silly, the students will appreciate your efforts to help them. Make sure to stay consistent, repeat the words and be patient. Happy Teaching!


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I am a 24-year old online ESL teacher from rural Ireland. I started teaching in 2016 and have since taught in the UK and Europe. This blog aims to help educate you on the existing possibilities of becoming an online teacher. Please show some love and support by sharing this article with others. Thank you!

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